An Indie-n movie…

I first met Sudhish Kamath three years ago at the Chennai International Screenwriting Workshop at IIT Madras. I was a 14 year old kid with a wide eyed face and I had somehow got admitted into this workshop that consisted of every demographic that a film targets. Sudhish writes the movie stuff for The Hindu, so I was understandably in awe. Over the years, as I explored creatively, he’s given me constructive criticism, which is why I felt I was obligated to do the same for him.

Sudhish recently wrote and directed Good Night Good Morning, a low budget independent film that explores romantic relationships and the cliches that surround them. For the critic who writes rather pretentiously about movies from other directors, it seems he hasn’t learnt from the mistakes of others.

This call didn’t “almost” change mine….

The movie is basically one long phone call between Turiya (Manu Narayan) and Moira (Seema Rahmani), two young people who are lonely and have a short “meet cute” at a bar on New Years Eve. Turiya calls her later, albeit for no apparent reason than to irritate her, and they strike up a conversation because Moira can’t sleep. Over the course of the conversation, they try to understand relationships and a lot of everything else. What they don’t do is discuss the problems of the movie.

I’ll give credit to Sudhish and his writing partner Shilpa Rathnam for one thing: taking the offbeat path. Ok, after loads of fucking Bollywood nonsense, it sure is relieving to see some independent cinema (in black and white too) and some half decent dialogue. The course of events in the film are completely natural, like how strangers start talking on the phone. The way Sudhish deals with cliches surrounding romance in movies is amusing, but nothing more (the riff off Kuch Kuch Hota Hai was the best). So, as an Indian film, it’s good because it’s different, not because it does something out of this world. But otherwise, I don’t see why this film will be remembered, for a couple of reasons:

The film hinges upon two things: that it’s primary characters are interesting, because we’re going to spend the whole film with them and that the journey of the conversation is evident to us, not just to the characters. The movie accomplishes none of these things. Somehow, the characters are supposed to be “likable” because they have traits that we can relate to. Turiya loves The Matrix, Moira loves mint and chocolate. Turiya is an insecure virgin trying to act macho, while Moira seems to “know-it-all” when it comes to sex. Okay, these are traits that people have. There’s a way of making it subtle and not so in-your-face, especially when you’re talking to someone you’ve never met before. The film’s central conceit is ultimately, why it doesn’t work. The journey of the film is confined to only the main characters, and for some reason, their backstories are supposed to make us care. Just showing a montage of their individual backstories doesn’t really do anything except give us information about the characters. In fact, it actually gets irritating after a point. Turiya and Moira seem to love each other because they tell the other about their past relationships and they advise each other on how to get rid of the baggage. Speaking of baggage, Turiya keeps saying, “I have so much baggage!!!” Again, why make it obvious?

The strength of any romantic movie is creating a sense of anticipation on the part of the audience. Through the course of the movie, we can’t wait to see these characters hook up, because we like these guys. Take Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, two brilliant movies, that Sudhish even throws reference to in the movie. However, Sudhish is no Richard Linklater. The power of that movie lay in the characters’ enjoyment of their surrounding environment that prompted them to open up to each other. And some of the central plot devices have been borrowed: the girl has to travel in the morning, the guy is recovering from a failed relationship. What I’ve noticed from other reviews is that the “humor” in the movie also stems from Turiya’s male buddies, JC and Hussain. It’s amusing, but it takes away from the main characters and is distracting.

Is it just me, or when Indian cinema tries something different, people aren’t objective and merely praise the person who takes Hollywood leftovers and throws in NRIs? Karan Johar calls this a cerebral joyride. I wonder why…but if there’s a silver lining, it shows that there’s a market for indies in India. And that is very reassuring. 

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